PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Tom Gillis has been just about everywhere in golf except atop the leaderboard on the PGA Tour.
Gillis at least gave himself a chance Friday in the Honda Classic, where the 43-year-old journeyman made a long par putt in the middle of his round that triggered a series of birdies for a 6-under 64.
Among the early starters, Gillis had a two-shot lead at 8-under 132.
If he wasn’t overly excited, it because half the field was still on the course, and because the conditions were so benign at PGA National that even a 64 was no longer anything special.
“It wasn’t a perfect round, but it was pretty good,” Gillis said.
Brian Harman was better than that.
The rookie from Georgia stood in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th hole with a chance to shoot 59 if he made eagle. He gave it his best shot, leaving a hybrid into the front bunker in an attempt to have a reasonable putt. Harman wound up missing a 5-footer and had to settle for par, though his 61 still broke the course record by three shots.
“Just one of those crazy days where everything comes together,” Harman said. “Got off to a really hot start and just kept the pedal down all day. It was awesome.”
For Tiger Woods, it was a matter of hitting the gas and slamming on the brakes.
Woods stuffed an approach inside 3 feet for birdie, then had to scramble for bogey. He bounced a tee shot off a spectator and turned that into birdie, only to hit his next tee shot into the water for double bogey. Two birdies to finish his round gave him a 2-under 68, leaving him seven shots out of the lead.
“It was nice to get that kind of finish because I was struggling today a little bit, trying to find a motion that was going to get the job done,” said Woods, whose 3-year-old son, Charlie, watched him play a tournament for the first time. “Somehow, I managed to score.”
He still didn’t score as well as so many others.
Graeme McDowell, who opened with a 73, birdied five of his last seven holes for a 64. Ted Potter Jr. played bogey-free for a 64.
Vaughn Taylor, who had to qualify Monday for the Honda Classic, had a 66 and joined Harman at 6-under 134. Harris English, the PGA Tour rookie who has yet to miss a cut, had a 69 and was another shot behind.
Gillis said his turning point came with a 25-foot par putt on the 10th, followed by three birdies over the next four holes. Whether his lead holds depended on the afternoon players, such as first-round leader Davis Love III and Rory McIlroy.
It was quite a turnaround for Gillis, who has played in 26 countries during a journey that has taken him to tours in Europe, Asia and South Africa. He first earned his PGA Tour card in 2003, was injured a year later, didn’t keep his card on 2005 and thought about quitting when he landed on the Nationwide Tour again in 2006.
But he stuck with it, hopeful of days — and possibly weeks — like this one.
Gillis even went home to Michigan after one of his failures at Q-school to get a real job.
“Job market wasn’t very good. Didn’t have a whole lot to offer them, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Geez, I’d better around and go back out there and see if I have anything left. It’s kind of a cool story. I like it because you dig deep and you move forward, and it’s a good example to young kids, just never give up and keep believing.
“Sometimes it’s hard to do that in this game because it seems like the game is built to tear you down to some extent.”
Harman figured he was on his way home early — his next stop is Puerto Rico — after he opened with a 73, well outside the projected cut. But he made two quick birdies, then holed a 25-foot eagle putt on No. 3, and he was on his way.
The left-hander of slight build — 5-foot-7, 150 pounds — didn’t realize how far he would go. He shot 29 on the front nine. After a bogey on the 12th, twice made birdie inside 6 feet, then added another birdie on the 16th hole to reach 9 under for his round.
Two birdies, and he could hit golf’s magic number. Only five players in PGA Tour history have shot 59.
“I walked off 16 and I was like, ‘Man, if I birdie these last two holes, I’m going to shoot 59,'” he said. “But then I looked at the pin on 17 and I’m like, ‘I don’t know about jacking a 5-iron at this thing.’ I had a good shot there. And I had a great drive on 18 and had a chance. I mean, I had a chance.”
Normally, he would play a 3-wood from just inside 250 yards to the back of the green and take two putts for birdie. Wanting to seize on the rare opportunity, he hit a hybrid — a club combining properties of a wood and iron — and came up just short and into the sand.
All was not lost.
“Just got it rolling today,” Harman said. “It’s just one of those days where everything went my way, everything bounced toward the hole and I made a lot of putts.”